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Open arms of love

Once upon a time, there was a boy who didn’t like himself very much. It was not his fault. He was born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is something that happens to the brain. It means that you can think but sometimes can’t walk, or even talk. This boy had a very bad case of cerebral palsy, and when he was still a little boy, some of the people entrusted to take care of him took advantage of him instead and did things to him that made him think that he was a very bad little boy, because only a bad little boy would have to live with the things he had to live with.
In fact, when the little boy grew up to be a teenager, he would get so mad at himself that he would hit himself, hard, with his own fists and tell his mother, on the computer he used for a mouth, that he didn’t want to live anymore, for he was sure that God didn’t like what was inside him any more than he did.
He had always loved Mister Rogers, though, and now, even when he was fourteen years old, he watched the Neighborhood whenever it was on, and the boy’s mother sometimes thought that Mister Rogers was keeping her son alive. She and the boy lived together in a city in California, and although she wanted very much for her son to meet Mister Rogers, she knew that he was far too disabled to travel all the way to Pittsburgh, so she figured he would never meet his hero, until one day she learned through a special foundation designed to help children like her son that Mister Rogers was coming to their city to meet her son.
At first, the boy was made very nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room and talk to him.
Mister Rogers didn’t leave, though. He wanted something from the boy, and Mister Rogers never leaves when he wants something from somebody. He just waited patiently, and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then he made his request. He said, “I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?” 
On his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers.
Then Mister Rogers said, “I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?”
And now the boy didn’t know how to respond. He was thunderstruck. Thunderstruck means that you can’t talk, because something has happened that’s as sudden and as miraculous and maybe as scary as a bolt of lightning, and all you can do is listen to the rumble.
The boy was thunderstruck because nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever.
The boy had always been prayed for.
The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn’t know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he’d try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn’t talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.
The first time I read this story–a 1998 Esquire Magazine article, “Can you say, Hero,” by Tom Junod–I was on an airplane, trying my best to hide my tears.  (Apparently, there’s no crying in First Class.)
Looking back, it’s interesting to me how afraid I was to just let the tears flow. No, I don’t understand the magnitude of the young boy’s pain, but I did recognize this: in all of us, the yearning is the same.
A need to know that we count.
A need to know that we matter.
A need to know that someone knows us and sees us, and is willing to open their arms wide, no matter what.
Because here’s the deal: It’s not that I am afraid of love. I’m just afraid of not being loved back.

From the first time I read it, and every time I reread it over the years, this story affects me deeply. Because yes, stories are indeed more important than food sometimes. And a reminder to not give way to any restrictive narrative of fear.
Because of my upbringing and the narrative of fear, the dial on my emotional thermostat has been turned way down, as if to discourage and distrust all matters of the heart.
Gratefully, like Mr. Rogers, grace doesn’t leave. Grace calls something—invites something beautiful—from each one of us, and grace never leaves until the invitation is heard and embraced. It may shake up our life, there’s not doubt about that. We’re not used to being unconditionally loved.
I don’t know where you see Grace in your life. I do know we don’t cut ourselves enough slack, and I do know that when Grace appears, it’s best if we don’t analyze it, but just… pause, and let it seep into the core of our being. The reality of true Grace is that it does not waiver or diminish. It does not depend upon our response, performance, attitude, faith or checkered past. It just is.
Why? Because Grace heals not by taking shame away, but by removing the one thing our shame makes us fear the most: rejection.
Grace is not easy to embrace or internalize because I still hear (and pay attention to) the message that my (our) identity and worth is tied to a measurement of certainty. And control.

So. It is no wonder we easily see (focus on) what we call “shortcomings” (the constraints, condition, wheelchair, etc.) as weakness and therefore, an absence. The message: We are not enough.
And we miss the voice of grace.
My favorite part of Mr. Rogers’ affirmation to the boy? The request for prayer wasn’t an assignment, or a test. It was an affirmation of capacity. He’s reminding the boy that the prayer will be coming from what is already inside. You are gifted with grace. And from that place, you can spill grace to those around you.
In my experience, it is easier to talk about grace, than it is to embrace it.  Just as it is easier to talk about God, than to experience God. It is not easy to fall into the open arms of love. Even so… We will only know grace through the open arms of one another.

Savor your Autumn color parade.
The geese have been away for a few weeks. I feel like a pastor in Arizona or Florida, waiting for the snowbirds return.
October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Let’s give him the last word, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

Quote for your week…
The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise. Maya Angelou

SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD

Today’s Photo Credit: “Hi Terry, This is Upper Mesa Falls, Idaho. We booked this trip in January with hope as the COVID vaccine was becoming available. We set aside our fears trusting the vaccine and safe practices after months of isolation. Traveling from Houston to Idaho. This is a trip of affirmation and reconnection.” Patti Suler and husband Billy Pickett… Thank you Patti…  Keep sending your photos… send to tdh@terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)

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Oct 25 – 28 Fall Camp Shrine Mont. Orkney Springs, VA
Nov 5 – 7 Life in the Garden, Hinton Rural Life Center, Hayesville, NC
Dec 10 – 12 Men’s Retreat, Franciscan Renewal Center, Scottsdale, AZ

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In the mailbag…
–Terry, Our paths crossed some years back at a retreat that you hosted for Moravian clergy in Minnesota. I’ve followed you on Monday mornings since and gleaned there the yeast for many sermons. I’m retired now, but still cherish your Monday morning pep talks. I recently put together a multi-media Sunday message for a local Presbyterian church about the power of the five word phrase “I’ll do what I can”. Last week, you said, “Today. I am willing to do what I can, with what I have been given, with a full, grateful and willing heart.” and in this mornings message “While I may have no magic to heal the pain and loss of others, or power to erase suffering from the world, I can stay grounded, and do what I can to help one person at a time (even myself), with small acts of great kindness. And who knows, maybe small acts of kindness will make heroes of us all.” Although my library has been purged and plundered multiple times since my retirement, I still have my autographed copy of “The Power of Pause” and I remain grateful to you and the God that unleashed you… Peace, Rev. Mike Eder
Thanks Mike, I really enjoyed watching it and the power of the story.

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POEMS AND PRAYERS

Of God’s love we can say two things: it is poured out universally for everyone from the Pope to the loneliest wino on the planet; and secondly, God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates value. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved that we have value. Our value is a gift, not an achievement.
William Sloane Coffin

A prayer of shelter and shadow
Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
– It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.
– It is in the shadow of each other that the people live.
We know that sometimes we are alone,
and sometimes we are in community.
Sometimes we are in shadow,
and sometimes we are surrounded by shelter.
Sometimes we feel like exiles –
in our land, in our languages and in our bodies.
And sometimes we feel surrounded by welcome.
As we seek to be human together,
may we share the things that do not fade:
generosity, truth-telling, silence, respect and love.
And may the power we share
be for the good of all.
We honour God, the source of this rich life.
And we honour each other, story-full and lovely.
Whether in our shadow or in our shelter,
may we live well
and fully
with each other.
Amen.
Pádraig Ó Tuama
(Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community)

The Garden
What I want to know, please, is
what is possible, and what is not.
If it is not, then I am for it.
My heart is out of its flesh-phase.
I am done with all of it, the habits, the patience.
Whoever I was, it is growing hazy and forgettable.
Whoever I am, it is for mere appearance’s sake.
It is for coin, and foolishness,
and I am thinking of something better.
All morning it has been raining.
In the language of the garden, this is happiness.
The tissues perk and shine.
Truly this is the poem worth keeping.
A mossy house anyone with sense would enter
as soon as the soul begins
to desire the impossible.
I have never felt so young.
Mary Oliver

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